"The spectrum is enormously broad"

Shortly before graduation: Insights into the jury work of the EMBA HSG alumni

Soon it will be that time again: at the annual graduation ceremony, not only the well-deserved diplomas will be handed over. Reunions within the classes, big hellos with the EMBA team and a community that continues to grow together. But there is even more in the air in the OLMA hall in St. Gallen: Tension, nervousness and anticipation mingle among the graduates. During the evening, the NZZ Prize for the best thesis of the year will be awarded.

Before the well-earned honors take place on the joint graduation festivities, the three-member jury consisting of EMBA HSG alumni board members convene. Chaired by EMBA HSG Alumni Co-President Daniela Decurtins (EMBA 37), the best theses of the year are reviewed in detail – this refers to all theses of a year that are awarded the best grade, an “6”. “There are usually four or five papers per class,” Decurtins explains. “But we’ve also had one round where we graded 10 papers.”

In addition to Decurtins, other board members of the EMBA HSG Alumni Association, Mark Mickoleit (EMBA 41) and Mandy von Piotrowski (EMBA 50), serve on the jury. How does she work? What inspires them? And what about the memory of her own thesis? 

“It can take up to two hours” for the EMBA HSG Alumni Jury to agree on an award winner, reports the jury chair, who emphasizes the decision-making process. “We discuss until we have agreed, or everyone is convinced that we have identified the “right” award winner. But we have also awarded two pieces of work before. The important thing is that we agree,” Decurtins said.

The jury members, who are not only come from different EMBA classes but also have professional focuses in different industries, agree on their personal motivation for their jury work. Mickokeit finds “it very interesting to read what moves the current EMBA HSG students, which topics are crucial to them and where, at best, trends or even “first-mover” movements are detected. I’m also learning something myself.” Von Piotrowski and Decurtins describe it in a similar way: “It is a form of continuing education, because you are always dealing with methods and tools in addition to a wide variety of management topics, divisions/industries and fields. You keep your finger on the pulse!”

Over the years, the EMBA HSG Alumni Jury has read many exciting papers and delved into a wide variety of subjects. What has stuck?

“The spectrum is enormously broad. From medical topics to the brewing industry, from the army to retail. I remember many of them very well,” Decurtins begins. For Mickoleit, something else stands out: “Digitization is a theme that comes up again and again in the works. It is not so much a single work that I want to highlight specifically. I attach great importance to the practical feasibility of recommendations from the work; these must also take sufficient account of the political and social framework conditions. Interdisciplinary thinking helps for a project to succeed.” Von Piotrowski specifically recalls the winning work from last year by Gina Brucker: “The topic of Smart City has stuck with me impressively. It was a very successful work with many new insights that had great added value.”

Decurtins takes the community idea even further: “I am still in contact with one of the winners today: he is involved in decarbonization issues at an international company. One of the winners is now a member of the EMBA Alumni Board (congratulations again to Stephan Müller).

Reading the outstanding theses as well as the jury evaluation always gives reason to think back to one’s own study time and the creation of the theses. “The real achievement of a master’s thesis is to reconcile work and study while also writing a master’s thesis. That’s why basically all graduates are winners!” clarifies Decurtins.

One jury member still has very concrete memories of his work, which took “a lot of time.” For Mickoleit, “it was worth it to work on one topic in depth again after all the modules: a sketch for a modern business model for the Legal function in the Axpo Group. In my current job, I can still benefit from the questions I worked on regarding the business partnership of a legal service.”

The jury has already met again this year and reached a conclusion. However, this will remain a well-kept secret until graduation on May 13th, 2023.

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